Today’s first reading is probably one of the most misunderstood passages from scripture, which JP II devoted quite a bit of time to discussing in his Theology of the Body.
Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the Church, he himself the savior of the Body. As the Church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his Body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.
As our priest, Fr. Basil, said in his homily at Mass today, this chapter of Ephesians is more of a challenge to the husband, not the wife, calling him to give up his life for her just as Christ did for the Church, to sanctify her…that she might be holy and without blemish. It is a call to love and sacrifice, not domination. Many women take offense at the first part of this passage, but why? “If you have a man that is ready to die for you,” said Fr. Basil, “is there anything to stop you from submitting to him? There is nothing he will ask of you that he will not give himself.”
The author (of Ephesians) speaks about the mutual submission of the spouses, husband and wife, and in this way shows also how to understand the words he writes afterward about the submission of the wife to the husband. We read, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). When he expresses himself in this way, the author does not intend to say that the husband is the “master” of the wife and that the interpersonal covenant proper to marriage is a contract of domination by the husband over the wife. He expresses a different concept instead, namely, that it is in her relationship with Christ – who is for both spouses the one and only Lord – that the wife can and should find the motivation for the relationship with her husband, which flows from the very essence of marriage and the family. This relationship is nevertheless not one-sided submission. According to the teaching of Ephesians, marriage excludes this element of the contract, which weighed on this institution and at times does not cease to weigh on it. Husband and wife are, in fact, “subject to one another,” mutually subordinated to one another. The source of this reciprocal submission lies in Christian pietas and its expression is love. –JP II TOB 89:4